BOSTON (CBS) — A World War II hero got the surprise, and honor, of his life Wednesday in Charlestown. He was reunited with the type of tank he used in Europe. He was once called the “Hero of Cologne” for a storied tank duel on the streets of that German city. Today at age 95, he’s one of the last survivors of the tank crews known as the Spearhead Division.
“That’s like my old friend,” says Clarence Smoyer as he first sees the Sherman tank parked outside his hotel. The tank picked him up and gave him a ride to the USS Constitution Museum, with a hero’s welcome. The trick? He thought a cab was picking him up to go to a book signing. “It’s a shock. It’s a shock. We went through many battles with a tank like that, and it saved me,” he says.
Smoyer was a young man when he enlisted in 1943, a gunner with the Army’s 3rd Armored Division. He and his crew battled their way across France and Belgium and fought to capture the key German city of Cologne. It’s a battle that still troubles his mind because he fears gunfire from his tank accidentally killed a civilian who was caught in the crossfire.
But today was about honoring an old veteran for his service and sacrifice.
“There are heroes like Clarence hiding in our own midst. They’re our neighbors. They’re our grandfathers, and they’re passing away really fast. So we need to honor them and give them a salute like this while we can,” says Adam Makos, the author of a new book about Smoyer called “Spearhead.”
“I hope that the book will honor Clarence and I hope it tells the story of the guys who never came home,” he says.
“I hope they understand what the fellas went through during the war. War is hell. War is hell,” Smoyer adds.
The last time Clarence Smoyer was in a tank was 1945.